If you stare at David Salle's "Ghost Paintings" for long enough, you might spot the delicate outline of a woman's body writhing under a bed sheet. The faint shadows of a dancer enacting improvised movements below the folds of fabric are there -- they're simply concealed beneath a heavy forcefield of imprinted linen and layers of painted inks.
"Ghost Paintings" is therefore an apt title for the works, originally created in 1992 and destined for their first ever exhibition at New York's Skarstedt gallery next month. A mash-up of photography and painting, the images seem anything but figurative, yet the swathes of yellow, pink and blue obscure a mysterious draped form hovering before the viewer's eyes. If Salle hadn't declared the ghost to be Beverly Eaby, his longtime model, we'd surely still be ogling the canvases, attempting to figure out where the artist's signature nude bodies were hiding.
But Eaby is hardly the star of the series, which functions more as an homage to postmodern interpretation of painting as a medium. "I think Salle is a good index of a lot of artists' concerns of the day," curator Janet Kardon said in an interview that predates "Ghost Paintings." "Issues of appropriation, of Post-Modernism, of isolated fragments rather than a narrative, and the interest in large-scale color painting -- just the return of painting is of concern to many contemporary artists."
Combining a love of saturated hues reminiscent of Mark Rohtko's dreamy paintings or Ellsworth Kelly's color fields, with a penchant for sensual forms and line not unlike John Baldessari or Richard Prince, Salle's works helped to solidify postmodernism in the 1980s. The Oklahoma-born, Kansas-raised artist spliced and juxtaposed his way to the forefront of figurative painters of his time, playing with collage, photography and readymades. His works existed well beyond the canvas, pulling from pop culture -- namely cinema -- and later live staged events, suggesting that the performative process of creating his characters was equally as important as the image he portrayed.
The process was visually apparent as well. "Ghost Paintings" serves as a perfect example, as printed photographs mix with paint and textile, physical remnants of the multiple steps involved. After 20 years of lying low, the complex works are finally on display courtesy of Arts Club of Chicago -- where the works were first showcased earlier this year -- and the institute's director and curator Janine Mileaf. Featuring 16 never-before-seen paintings, the exhibition is a journey back to the early 1990s, when Salle's particular brand of mash-ups reigned supreme.
"David Salle: Ghost Paintings" will be on view at Skarstedt gallery from November 8 to December 21, 2013. The works are also available as a book published by The Arts Club of Chicago.
All images courtesy of David Salle, VAGA, NY. Courtesy, Skarstedt New York.